HomebooksWhere’s the diveristy in invisible disability representation?

When I was a girl, I loved the Nancy Drew mysteries and, to a lesser extent, The Babysitter’s Club. At the time, they were the only books I knew of featuring female main characters that weren’t focused exclusively on romance or other typically “feminine” things.

Dyslexic detective stories! I only realized
once I got home that these aren’t the first in
their series. Woops.

I preferred Nancy over Babysitters, because my young mind saw her stories as more exciting and her character as the strong woman I hoped to become. Eventually, I discovered urban fantasy and the wonderful female protagonists in those stories.

I also read comics, which wasn’t all that common for girls in my area. Before the writers ruined the series by marrying people off, I was a big fan of the X-Men. They were outcast because of their differences, and I often felt I was, too.

The lack of disability representation, outside of maybe for plot devices, inspiration or comedy, didn’t consciously register with me. When dyslexia showed up in stories, it was always as a hurdle to overcome, and the characters were most often boys.

It was hard to relate to them, and even harder to come to terms with how I’m wired.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I discovered any sort of positive representation for LD. That was in the Percy Jackson series, in which the majority of characters are dyslexic, have ADHD or both. Since then, I’ve discovered that one of the characters in the X-Men, Jubilee, had some sort of LD. I have yet to hunt down which issues it was addressed, if there were any.

I wish I could have had those fictional examples when I was young. I also wish there were more dyslexic adult characters easily available, too, because dyslexia does not magically go away when you hit 18. It’s with you for life, as are its gifts and challenges. Had I a stronger grasp on that concept, transitioning into adulthood may have been slightly easier.

Since getting accepted to that panel in July, I’ve been hunting for invisible disability representation in fiction. Today, I picked up a couple of mystery novels from the library which feature dyslexic detectives. I haven’t started reading yet, so I don’t know how well the authors did with the learning difference aspects, but hopefully, they’ll do a good job. It would be nice to see the authors go deeper than the whole, “Oh, they just can’t read well” thing. I’ll probably do some research into why they decided to include dyslexia as a part of the characters’ natures.

One character is male, while the other’s female. I know of another dyslexic detective character, and he’s male, too. I’m sure that prevalence of male dyslexics stems from a combination of the old idea that dyslexia is a “boy thing” and the general tendency for main characters to be male in media.

That link relates to film, but the same tends to be true in books. As much as I love the Percy Jackson series, and for as many diverse characters it has, the characters who get the most attention are still male. The same goes for Harry Potter, X-Men (as made obvious by the title) and the majority of popular fictional books. I love the stories and the characters, but the world still needs more focus on female characters.

Of course, boys with invisible disabilities/differences need representation, but so do the girls. Why can’t there be a more balanced dynamic? It’s about time we broke through the gender roles in disability representation, just as in everything else.

While we’re at it, why not include a broad range of skin colors, too? Dyslexia, as well as all forms of invisible disability/difference, doesn’t discriminate. Why should our stories?

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